Palestinian Rap Group DAM On The Political Difficulties Facing Palestinian Hip-Hop
Tell us about the new English music you’re working on. Tamer, didn’t you start rapping in English?
TN: It was shit. But now I’m doing it more professionally. The accent did not change, but now I know more about how to write the rhymes, how to flow, the delivery. It takes me an hour to finish an Arabic song, but it takes me a week to finish 16 bars in English. We are trying to do the hooks in English and one verse in English. I got an English teacher, and he comes at the end and fixes things. He used to be a rapper in D.C., and he controls Arabic and English really good. So if I have a problem with a word, he can find a different word that suits.
“American artists have radios, have TVs, a place to show their art. And this is what we don’t have, as Palestinians. Because we don’t have a country.”
Why write in English?
TN: Because I can. I do it in Arabic, in Hebrew, and I can do it in English. Maybe 50 percent of our shows are in Europe, and I want them to know that we are not coming from Palestine and that’s it. We have a lot of good punchlines, metaphors; we learned from the best. I want them to know that when we build rhymes, we have references like Rakim, like Eminem. And when we wanna talk about depth, we have references of not just Common and Talib, but also Mahmood Darweesh [Palestinian poet] and Naji al Ali [Palestinian cartoonist].
MJ: I don’t write in English, I write in Arabic and Hebrew. But I think English adds a lot to the show, and I’m cool with that. When you come to the U.S. and different places and you only sing in Arabic, they don’t understand the lyrics. If you get them in something, it is the performance, and it is the music itself.
Why do you write in Hebrew?
MJ: Back then, there was an Israeli scene already doing hip-hop in Hebrew and there was no Arabic scene. There was, but we didn’t hear about it. It took us time to create how to write in Arabic and how to put the rhymes and how to flow on the beat. DAM was boycotted by the Israeli media, by the Israeli hip-hop scene, so then we only did it in Arabic. We lost interest in doing hip-hop in Hebrew.
How’s the response to the most recent album (Dabke On The Moon)?
TN: Really good. I see a lot of people quoting lines, they like the lyrics, they like the production. It’s really different from the other album; it’s more musically progressed. I wouldn’t hesitate to say more commercial…not the content, but the musical package. I think I’m young enough to enjoy Ludacris and 50 Cent, but I’m old enough not to follow the lyrics. I think that I can learn from each.
I will not tell bitches to move: “Move, bitch, get out the way.” But I can say, “Wow, what an amazing flow!” It’s Luda, come on. I don’t have to follow whoever’s lyrics, but I can enjoy the beat, I can enjoy the delivery, the sound, the character. I can enjoy the rapper that’s saying words I don’t agree with, and say, “Wow, he’s very good with the camera.” So that’s the album; the album is in between. You will find yourself between Arab pop singers, world music, commercial hip-hop, Public Enemy, Joey Bada$$.
Anything else in the works now?
TN: We are discussing a new mixtape or album. We haven’t decided yet. I was really on fire when we said let’s do half English/half Arabic, but then after I recorded the English, I freaked out a bit. I backed out, and I feel that if I develop it alone a bit, I’ll be ready. So I’m developing it in my slow rhythm. For now we are performing, we are working on videos to promote this album. Mahmood offered that we have a lot of unrecorded verses, that we should drop a mixtape. And I agree.
MJ: This album will take time to catch up, because the Arabic hip-hop scene still is not on that level yet. I’m talking about sound. A lot of people really love the album, and a lot of people who heard Dedication, the first album, they are disappointed because they want us to do the same sounds. I think this album is much more developed—it’s not only three MCs [rapping], but it has beautiful bridges and beautiful sounds, and you need a deep listening to really know the album.
Personally, I’m working with Abed Hathut, from the Palestinian rock band Khalas. I’m working on my album—it’s a little bit experimental, not totally hip-hop. I’m trying to discover new sounds and discover new areas. I love rock as much as I love hip-hop.
TN: I just finished a photography campaign. It’s a series of 12 photos called Room #4, and it’s gonna tour around the world. And I’m working on the first Palestinian hip-hop movie, a long feature. I’m working with a guy who is one of the best writers in Hollywood, Oren Moverman. He was nominated for an Oscar. I’m working with him and with Udi Aloni, the producer. So while we’re in New York, that’s what we’re doing every day. It’s almost there.